Cowell, Roberta

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Cowell, Roberta Gender: MF
Robert Marshall Cowell
born on 8 April 1918 at 02:00 (= 02:00 AM )
Place Croydon, England, 51n23, 0w06
Timezone GDT h1e (is daylight saving time)
Data source
From memory
Rodden Rating A
Collector: Rodden
Astrology data s_su.18.gif s_aricol.18.gif 17°23' s_mo.18.gif s_piscol.18.gif 02°51 Asc.s_sagcol.18.gif 27°44'


British racing driver and Second World War fighter pilot, nicknamed 'Betty,' she was the first known British trans woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Cowell was one of three children of Major-General Sir Ernest Marshall Cowell KBE CB (1886–1971), a prominent surgeon, and Dorothy Elizabeth Miller (1886–1962), a fine pianist and singer.

On 28 December 1940, Robert 'Bob' Cowell was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps as second lieutenant. By June 1944, Cowell was flying with No. 4 Squadron RAF, a squadron assigned to the task of aerial reconnaissance. On 18 November 1944, Cowell was piloting one of a pair of Typhoons on a low-level sortie near Bocholt, Germany. South east of Kessel, Cowell attacked targets on the ground, but the aircraft's engine was knocked out and its wing holed by German anti-aircraft fire. Cowell was flying too low to bail-out and instead jettisoned the cockpit canopy and glided the Typhoon to a successful deadstick crash-landing. Cowell was captured by German troops, and made two failed escape attempts, and was taken to the prisoner–of–war camp Stalag Luft I. Cowell remained a prisoner for around five months, occupying the time by teaching classes in automotive-engineering to fellow inmates. Between 12 and 14 May 1945, Cowell was one of the Commonwealth personnel flown back to the United Kingdom by aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

After demobilization, Cowell was engaged in a number of business ventures, founding a motor-racing team in 1946 and competing in events across Europe.

In 1948, Cowell, suffering from depression, consulted a Freudian psychiatrist who gradually revealed, in her own words, that her "unconscious mind was predominantly female" and the "feminine side of my nature, which all my life I had known of and severely repressed, was very much more fundamental and deep-rooted than I had supposed."

By 1950, Cowell was taking large doses of estrogen, but was still living as a man. She had become acquainted with Michael Dillon, a physician who was the first British trans man, after reading his 1946 volume Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics. This work proposed that individuals should have the right to change gender, to have the kind of body they desired. Dillon subsequently carried out an inguinal orchiectomy (surgical removal of testicle/s and the full spermatic cord) on Cowell in secret, as the procedure was then illegal.

Cowell then presented herself to a private Harley Street gynaecologist and was able to obtain from him a document stating she was intersex. She had a vaginoplasty on 15 May 1951. The operation was carried out by Sir Harold Gillies, widely considered the father of plastic surgery, with the assistance of American surgeon Ralph Millard. Gillies had operated on Michael Dillon, but vaginoplasty was then an entirely novel procedure, which Gillies had only performed experimentally on a cadaver. This allowed her to have a new birth certificate issued on 17 May 1951, with her recorded sex changed to female, and her name, 'Roberta Elizabeth Cowell.'

As Roberta, she still loved speed, sports and racing. By 1954, her two business ventures, a racing car engineering company (Leacroft of Egham) and a clothing company had both ceased trading and her change of legal gender had made it impossible for her to continue Grand Prix motor racing. However, in March 1954, news of her gender reassignment broke, gaining public interest around the world. In the United Kingdom, her story was published in the magazine Picture Post, and Cowell received a fee of around £8000 (equivalent to £200,000 in 2016, when adjusted for inflation). Cowell's biography was published soon after this, earning a further £1500 (£37.7 thousand).

She continued to be active in motor racing and attracted some publicity for winning the 1957 Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb. In 1958 she became bankrupt, her financial difficulties continued, as she found it difficult to get employment. In later years, she largely dropped out of the public eye. However she was still an active figure in British motor racing in the 1970s. The final operation to complete his sex change occurred on 17 May 1971. In a 1972 interview, she stated she was an intersex individual with the chromosomal abnormality XX male syndrome, and that the condition justified her transition.

In May 1941, Cowell had married Diana Margaret Zelma Carpenter (1917–2006). They had two daughters, whom Cowell chose to never contact again after separating from Diana in 1948. The couple's divorce was finalised in 1952. During her long gender transition, Cowell met Lisa, who became her lifetime companion. They lived together on and off until Lisa's death at the end of the 1980s. Roberta 'Betty' Cowell died in London on 11 October 2011, 93 years old.

Link to Wikipedia biography


  • Misc. : Great Insight 1928 (First felt to be female)
  • Relationship : Marriage May 1941 (Diana Margaret Zelma Carpenter)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Family : Change in family responsibilities July 1942 (Birth of daughter, Anne)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Family : Change in family responsibilities August 1944 (Birth of daughter, Diana)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Work : Begin Major Project 1948 (Sex change)
  • Health : Medical procedure 15 May 1951 (Final transsexual surgery, vaginoplasty)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Misc. : Changed Name 17 May 1951 (New 'female birth certificate)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Relationship : Divorce dates 1952 (From only wife)

Source Notes

Given by her in AQ, Winter/1954

Sy Scholfield provided birth certificate (no birth time recorded) [1].


  • Diagnoses : Body Part Problems : Surgery (Sex change)
  • Family : Relationship : Mate - Same sex
  • Family : Relationship : Number of Divorces (One)
  • Family : Relationship : Number of Marriages (One)
  • Family : Parenting : Kids 1-3 (Two daughters)
  • Passions : Sexuality : Lesbian
  • Passions : Sexuality : Sex Organs (Surgically changed gender)
  • Passions : Sexuality : Transgender M-to-F (1948)
  • Personal : Death : Long life more than 80 yrs (Age 93)
  • Vocation : Business : Business owner
  • Vocation : Military : Military service (WWI, second lieutenant)
  • Vocation : Military : POW/ MIA (POW, 1944-1945)
  • Vocation : Sports : Race Cars
  • Vocation : Travel : Pilot/ military (Typhoon)
  • Notable : Book Collection : American Book